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Review: Nights of Azure

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Alright for fighting

A lot of parents give their children curfews. Mine certainly did. They advised me to return home before dark, lest risk being eaten by one of the mountain lions that patrolled our neighborhood after dusk.

That grim warning, the memory of which I've successfully managed to suppress for twenty years, bubbled to the surface during my time with Nights of Azure, a new role-playing game whose cast of characters risk life and limb every time they dare set foot outdoors after sunset.

Nights of Azure (PS3 [Japan-only], PS4 [reviewed], Vita [Japan-only])
Developer: Gust
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Released: March 29, 2016 (NA) April 1, 2016 (EU) October 1, 2015 (JP)
MSRP: $59.99 

The citizenry of the fictional kingdom of Ruswal isn't boarding up the windows at sunset for fear of cougars, though. No, in the evening hours, a legion of monsters descends upon the land, discouraging all but the most tenacious (or perhaps foolhardy) individuals from walking the streets at night.

One such person who braves the dark is our protagonist, Arnice, a half-demon knight charged with defending Ruswal from its demons and the apocalyptic ambitions of their unholy master. Unfortunately, we soon learn, the only way to save the day is for Arnice's old friend, a priestess by the name of Lilysse, to seal away the evil lord through self-sacrifice.

It's a far darker premise than we've come to expect of Gust, the studio best known for the decidedly more cheery Atelier series, but it's also one that is undermined by inconsistencies in tone, anime tropes, and unwelcome amounts of comic relief, hypersexualization, and melodrama. 

The world and sapphic romance at Nights of Azure's core are promising. Its a tale of two young women forced to accept cruel fates, where one prepares to become a martyr, as the other slowly succumbs to demonic corruption, wrestling with her waning humanity and newfound hunger for human flesh. Sadly, much of that potential goes unfulfilled. The story is marred by beats that seem inappropriate for such a dire situation. Whether it's ancillary characters joking at length about their incompetence and perversions, or the designers shoehorning Lilysse into a revealing maid outfit to pander to the otaku crowd, a parade of missteps muddy what could have been a beautiful tale of doomed romance.

The game itself is a peculiar amalgam of action and role-playing mechanics that begins as a simplistic hack-and-slash-type experience, where Arnice must carve her way through droves of monotonous enemies en route from one location to the next. Our heroine's arsenal of abilities is limited to a finite repertoire of simplistic attacks until she gets a little help from demonic familiars.

Players can assemble a team of up to four support characters called "Servans," each with unique offensive and defensive powers. These guys will level-up and grow more powerful depending on how often you take them into battle, and can even change how Arnice handles. Depending on the composition of the team, she can unleash one of a few different types of transformation attacks, which, in addition to being devastatingly powerful, provide buffs for the rest of the squad.

There are a myriad of Servans to collect, but I ultimately didn't spend much time experimenting with them, since they take a long time to train and purchasing new ones isn't ideal, as most merchants only accept demon blood as currency -- the same substance Arnice uses to level-up.

This creates an unfortunate negative feedback loop, where for players to make the experience more engaging and rewarding they must first suffer through a lot of plodding repetition. By the time the credits roll, Nights of Azure is very different sort of game than it is at the outset. It piles nuance little by little to make the ride more enjoyable as it nears its conclusion. But this regrettably comes at the cost of adding many more banal moments en route to getting there.

A few frustrating design decisions also drag down an otherwise serviceable experience. While Nights of Azure isn't overly respectful of your time in the first place, it exacerbates this issue with poor signposting. Even when you know precisely where on the map you need to go and what you need to do there, it can be difficult locating your current objective on the ground, which is something that had me frustrated, aimlessly running around in circles far more often than seemed necessary. 

Other bizarre choices like forcing players to return to home base to level-up and change equipment were sources of irritation. In one instance, I found myself in a boss fight while using a powerful cursed item that dealt damage to Arnice over time. Then my healer went down, leaving me no way to recover health, which impelled me to quit mid-battle and never use said item again.

It's moments like that which tarnished Nights of Azure for me. Anything it gets right or does adequately enough is countered by a pitfall or something lackluster. It's perfectly functional and seems to do what it wants to do, it's just a pity none of those things are particularly exceptional in any way.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Nights of Azure reviewed by Kyle MacGregor Burleson

5

MEDIOCRE

An exercise in apathy, neither solid nor liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.
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Kyle MacGregor Burleson
Kyle MacGregor BurlesonWeekend Editor   gamer profile

used to work Now I just hang around and make a more + disclosures


 


 


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